Saturday, November 3, 2012

Uncle Maynard

My uncle Maynard died this morning.  He was 87.  He’d struggled the past several years with Alzheimer’s and general old age.  He started palliative care last Monday.

He had no children.  He was my father’s only brother.  And he is the Catholic father who baptized me.

My parents were both raised Catholic but were uncommitted to any institutional church at the time they married.  They had a justice of the peace officiate the wedding, in my father’s living room.

When I was born, it was almost instinctual that I be baptized, and Catholic; there was enough family impetus, especially with a priest for a brother, and no good reasons not to.

I had my own reasons, it seems; at five months old, I screamed through the whole Mass, from first words to finish.  This is a favorite story in my family.  The hilarity has increased as I’ve grown older and come to insist, every time, “I knew you were baptizing me Catholic, and I objected!”

Uncle Maynard was older than my father, and like my father was retired well before I finished grade school.  He became a chaplain on cruise ships, staying in Arizona when they weren’t sailing.  I saw him only rarely, perhaps once every few years.

My mother remembered today a winter phone conversation I had with Uncle Maynard when I was three or four.  We were still unchurched as a family, and Maynard had some concerns about my lack of education in the faith.  He asked me, kindly, “Emmy, do you know whose birthday we’re celebrating?”  ”It’s Jesus’ birthday,” I told him earnestly.  He chuckled with that tone of voice that adults use when they ask a question they don’t think you can answer:  ”And do you know where Jesus was born?”  ”Of course I do,” I said, exasperated.  ”In the hay.”

He laughed so loudly my mother could hear it through the phone line.

Tonight my mother told me that thirty years ago, before I was even born, Uncle Maynard told her and my father that the church was in error.  It was time, he said then, to begin ordaining women.  By the time I began pursuing my own ordination, he was too sick to remember from conversation to conversation what I was doing or even how old I was.  I haven’t talked to him in years, and in the past few, he’d be so confused by phone calls that he’d accuse the other person of lying about who they were.

Tonight, perhaps, is the first night he knows that the little girl who knew where Jesus was born is learning to tell everyone else.

It is a sad thing, and I am mourning him.  And yet it is a beautiful thing now to be taking up the work that he began.

I commend you, my dear brother,
to almighty God
and entrust you to your Creator.
May you return to him
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ, who was crucified for you,
bring you freedom and peace.
May Christ, who died for you,
admit you into his garden of paradise.
May Christ, the true Shepherd,
acknowledge you as one of his flock.
May he forgive all your sins
and set you among those he has chosen.
May you see your Redeemer face to face
and enjoy the vision of God for ever.
-a Catholic prayer for the commendation of the dead

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